The Amazon looks like an endless green carpet from above. In bright sunshine, the Federal President climbed onto the platform of the Atto research tower, equipped with safety belts and a helmet. In the middle of the largest rainforest in the world, far away from any civilization. “The air at the top is good,” says Frank-Walter Steinmeier when he’s back on solid ground.
The Atto Tower is the heart of the Amazon Tall Tower Observatory research station. It is 325 meters high, almost as high as the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The Atto tower is in the middle of the jungle and is full of highly sensitive measuring devices. Scientists from Germany and Brazil work here. They analyze the complex processes by which the Amazon rainforest influences the global climate.
The Federal President came to Brazil with a large delegation from Germany. The Environment Minister is there, a State Minister from the Foreign Office and a State Secretary from the Development Ministry. They all want to draw attention to the endangered global climate. They want to show how important it is to protect the Amazon rainforest. Not just for Brazil, but for the whole planet. And they want to support Lula da Silva from day one of his presidency – in the fight against the destruction of the rainforest.
Lula has promised to make climate protection a priority during his term. He wants to reduce deforestation in the Amazon to zero by 2030. For that, says Steinmeier, Lula needs support from all over the world. And of course also from Germany. “Even if the region is far away from Germany, it is the livelihood for many people on earth,” says Steinmeier. “And this livelihood is in danger.”
The Amazon rainforest is threatened from two sides
The Amazon rainforest is already emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than it absorbs in these places. If the forest system as a whole reaches its tipping point, the largest rainforest in the world will be irretrievably destroyed – with unforeseeable consequences. “We don’t yet know all the processes that would be released if the system were to tip over. But the consequences will probably be dramatic,” says Christopher Pöhlker. The researcher from the Max Planck Institute in Mainz has been working on the German-Brazilian research project in the Amazon for years. The rainforest, he says, is being pinched from two sides: climate change and deforestation. Both lead to the drying out of the ecosystem. Around 20 percent of the Amazon has already been destroyed. “And that’s really critical.”
That’s why the following now applies: Don’t waste any time and act quickly. One notices the concern of Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, who was traveling with him: “We have to save the Amazon if we want to stop the climate crisis.” The next ten years are crucial. After that, the chance would actually have passed. “We want to send the signal that protecting the Amazon, protecting the climate and fighting species extinction is a really essential task for this federal government and we are mobilizing all means for this.”
Lula da Silva (right), here with Federal President Steinmeier, was President of Brazil from 2003 to 2011
The federal government released 35 million euros for the Amazon fund when Lula took office. Money frozen under Lula’s predecessor, far-right Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro had openly allowed the deforestation and burning of the rainforest. Now the first projects are to be initiated quickly to prevent exactly that. “It’s not money for Brazil. It’s money for the children and grandchildren in our regions, because their livelihoods are also affected here,” says Steinmeier.
Still too little financial support for the rainforest
But there is also criticism. “The 35 million euros are a drop in the ocean,” criticizes Christof Schenk, managing director of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, a renowned, internationally active nature conservation organization. Alone for the consequences of the flood disaster in the German Ahr Valley, 30 billion euros are to be used. “We have to think in completely different dimensions,” says Schenk. “Nobody should be under the illusion that it doesn’t matter what happens in Brazil. That concerns us all.” Schenk is also part of the Federal President’s travel group, which is now sitting in the shade in the barren camp and having the local researchers explain the situation to them.
Everyone here is emphasizing how important the announced turnaround in Brazil’s climate policy is now. But it is also clear how difficult this will be for the new president. The right-wing parties have the majority in Brazil’s National Congress and Lula has to reach out to them if he wants to achieve anything.
The Federal President took three days to campaign for a new start in relations in Brazil. During Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency, they were significantly disrupted. With a population of 215 million, Brazil is one of the largest economies in the world and is rich in natural resources. The country supplies large parts of the world’s population with its agricultural exports. And that fits the German course: since Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine and the realization of how dependent Germany is on Russian oil and gas, a number of politicians have been praising the slogan: diversify, no longer be dependent on one country.
Marina Silva: Brazil’s new, old environment minister
Lula has an internationally recognized fighter at his side for environmental and climate policy: Marina Silva is Brazil’s new environment minister. She was a minister in Lula’s first cabinet and was instrumental in ensuring that deforestation in the Amazon was drastically reduced during Lula’s first term. However, in a dispute with Lula, Silva resigned from office in 2008. So now the next attempt.
In Brasilia, Environment Minister Steffi Lemke has agreed to work closely with her counterpart Marina Silva. “I’m sure that if the question of further funds gets stuck, we will find ways, as an international community, to make more money available.” Money that is also needed for research institutions such as the Atto project.
“Whenever I come to the research station, I feel humbled.” says the researcher Christopher Pöhlker as the delegation makes its way back. “Humility in the face of overwhelming nature. But also humility in the face of the responsibility, as a scientist, to explain the complex relationships correctly.”
Jeeps transport guests from Germany to seaplanes, which take them back to civilization. And again there is a fantastic view from above of the endless expanses of the Amazon. Its area is still larger than that of all the states of the European Union put together.